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Anatomy of a honeymoon piece

Written By: - Date published: 8:50 pm, November 30th, 2008 - 32 comments
Categories: Media, national/act government - Tags:

Most of our political journalists are more than capable of producing informative, insightful pieces. For instance, Claire Trevett wrote an excellent series of pieces that confirmed John Key had stolen Coldplay’s ‘Clocks’ for his ‘Ambiguous for NZ’ DVD. She researched the legalities of the issue, consulted a musicologist on the tune, brought forward a confession from National, and asked Labour for comment. Solid.

Now, look at this article from Saturday, also by Trevett:

– Bill English repeats his campaign lines with no facts to support them. They are accepted without question. No details on the substantive policies National/ACT wants to implement are provided. There is not even any recognition of the fact that English is providing no substance, just spin. So, one has to wonder if substance was sought.

– no response from Labour is included (and it hasn’t been sought otherwise it would say Labour had no comment). Can you imagine Labour making significant comments and no response from National being sought? No, because it doesn’t happen, except when honeymoon-think undermines journalistic standards.

– no independent expert is quoted backing up or discrediting English’s line. No statistics or other context are provided.

All these things leave us with nothing more than a puff piece, the kind of thing you would get if you asked National’s spin doctors to write it. This a perfect example of how ‘honeymoon’ thinking afflicts the media and shows that it is a media phenomena, contrary to what John Armstrong says. The media thinks there is honeymoon and so they make it true by not carrying out normal journalistic practice, by giving National a baby-soft ride. As Rawdon Christie said on Agenda today, ‘the honeymoon continues’, and it will continue as long as the journos believe it does.

This vacuous honeymoon groupthink undercuts the performance of even our more able journalists. That’s a problem for anyone who wants an informed public.

The really weird and disappointing thing is that long after every honeymoon is over you see media looking back at it with a mixture of shame and confusion. ‘Why did that happen?’, the journos ask ‘it’s embarrassing to recall how we gave them such an easy ride’.

It’s time they faced up to the fact that it is a media problem and the journos’ responsibility to fix.

32 comments on “Anatomy of a honeymoon piece”

  1. “Freedom of Speech” – in their case the freedom to abuse it.

  2. the sprout 2

    The ongoing NACT-msm circle-jerk is fairly nauseating. But while it’s all smiles and matey mates for now, remember too that before long those relationships will sour and turn septic.

    Honeymoon this may be but both journalists and politicians alike have unusually high divorce rates.

    What’s also good is that there are now journals like The Standard that can keep a permanent online record of what journalists are saying now, so that in a few months or years time when the naively obsequious journalist of today tries to become tomorrow’s valiant cynic of government, we can remind a broader readership of how gullible such cheerleaders had been.

  3. Liar 3

    [deleted]
    [lprent: bye probably dad]

  4. “probably dad”? With his limited vocab you could say “definitely dad” 😉 . How many times did he mention snakes?

  5. Ari 5

    “Freedom of Speech’ – in their case the freedom to abuse it.

    This isn’t a freedom of speech issue. The government’s not doing anything to enforce the honeymoon period- it’s all the media deciding that they should softball the government to go along with expectations. Exactly whose expectations is an open question.

    Even a honeymoon period does not excuse ignoring every other party, nor does it excuse a lack of alternative view point or frame of reference. These are bad journalistic practices even when you have good reason to softball someone.

  6. Cato 6

    What’s with “National’s Plug” at the bottom?

    This isn’t Rove

  7. Tigger 7

    LOL – National’s plug = the hair plugs Key will need if his hairline recedes any further…

    Yep, pretty lacklustre journalism here – no one questioning how $47 a week plus some yet quite formed ideas are going to stop anyone from leaving for Oz. What everyone is missing is that the NZ ‘exodus’ to Oz is repeated worldwide – small towns to cities, cities to bigger cities, big city in small country to big city in bigger country etc… It’s part of the migration psyche. $47 a week and some indentured doctors are not going to stem migration. It’s just a fact of life.

    Anyway, once Oz runs out of water (I give them 20 years or less) that should staunch the flow across the ditch…

  8. gobsmacked 8

    The honeymoon hasn’t started yet. They’re still getting drunk at the wedding reception.

    I suppose we could blame Helen Clark. November election = new government formed in time for the Santa parade. 99% of the population will be anaesthetised until February. It was always going to happen.

    The real danger is not the media honeymoon so far, it’s what happens when Parliament sits (from Dec 8?). If I were a NACTivist pining for the days of Roger on speed, I’d be cramming everything into those two weeks. The government could sell every school and hospital to Fay Richwhite, and Close-Up would still lead with Jason Gunn and Wendy Petrie singing Feliz Navidad.

  9. Tommy Douglas 9

    Totally agree!

    However, you write that “The media thinks there is honeymoon and so they make it true by not carrying out normal journalistic practice, by giving National a baby-soft ride”

    That should read: “The media THINK” since the word ‘media’ is plural.

  10. Bill 10

    Chomsky on the the Public Relations Industry with reference to elections ( well worth reading if you feel like extrapolating to a NZ context) http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/19749

    “The industry’s prime task is to ensure that uninformed consumers make irrational choices, thus undermining market theories.  And it recognizes the benefits of undermining democracy the same way.”

    The people who work for media outlets are a fairly representative cross section of society….not more diligent or better informed; neither smarter nor more conscientious.If they were, they would not find ready employment within the context of a corporate media which, by necessity operates on PR spin.

    Put it this way, would you expect Shell Oil to disseminate devastating reports on oil related pollution? So why expect a corporate media that is essentially an arm of the PR industry to disseminate meaningful news pieces on the political system that ‘underwrites’ them?

    Here’s a stark example from http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/19789

    “A former Prime Minister of India died the very morning that Mumbai was attacked.
    Not once through these days have I noticed the slightest mention even in a ticker tape on any channel but one. I mean not even the news of his passing.

    And not just because our elite channels were so engrossed in bringing to the nation every second of the attack on the Taj and the Oberoi.

    Let me say this: had it not been him but another former Prime Minister who is still happily with us, although ill and sidelined by his own party, the channels would at the least have divided their time equally between him and the events in Mumbai.

    So why was Vishwanath Pratap Singh so rudely and with such vulgar disdain ignored even in his passing?

    Because, I venture to say, there has been no more a hated figure for South-Mumbai India than him who was not merely a man of integrity next only to Nehru, and secular to the same timbre, but perhaps the most imaginative political mind of India since Nehru.”

  11. Ianmac 11

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=10545840
    “The new Government’s decision to put the emissions trading scheme on hold pending a review came as a bolt from the blue. Stakeholders had been led to expect that there would be some changes to the ETS but the proposal to pass legislation putting it on hold was completely unexpected.”

    An interesting read in the Herald though it has no comment fom anyone. Probably pass by and be replaced with a big story of a dead parrot?

  12. Daveski 12

    Perhaps the solution is for every journalist to send stories to you for checking before publication?

    There always will be a honeymoon for any incoming govt and I suspect that there is an allowance for the gravity of the situation that we are facing.

    To claim barely 3 weeks after the election that the media is giving the govt a soft run is hilarious and simply highlights the lack of balance here, not in the media. It’s no different to the consistent lines here about the purported bias of the media in favour of the Nats during the election when the analysis showed, if anything, the Nats got more negative press.

    BTW I’m not expecting balance here – this is a passionate, pro-Left blog and all power to you. But don’t expect the rest of the world to agree with your biased, partisan view of the media or the Govt’s performance so far.

  13. Ianmac 13

    Dveski: John Key assured us that he had viable plans and persuaded us that the Labour Lead Govt was tired and had no fresh ideas. He knew just what was needed long before the election. He is an honourable man and we expect that his plans were all ready prepared. But wait! No details? Just an endless repeat of the election slogans? The questions outnumber the answers hugely! They must be answered and soon.

  14. Bill 14

    Ianmac.

    I note that the piece you linked to was ‘an opinion’ piece, therefore to be seen in lesser terms than a ‘news’ piece…which would properly be considered ‘objective’ and worthy of being held in higher regard.

    That the ‘objectivity’ would have centred around something like the colour of JK’s tie when he was flipping that particular flop would not be meant to be taken as consequential when considering the newsworthiness of the writing.

    That it would be termed as ‘news’ is of itself reason enough to rely on it as a piece of information. Tuku Morgan’s underpants come to mind yet again.

  15. Daveski 15

    lanmac – my point is that these comments would be valid after 3 or 6 months. Remember, Labour’s “policy” was a December mini-budget, with no details.

    All I’m pointing out is the naivety of claiming the honeymoon is a MSM conspiracy when any govt would be given time to make decisions.

    I’ll happily review my position in 3-6 months but to criticise any incoming govt for a lack of action after 20 odds days doesn’t seem to me to be realistic.

  16. lprent 16

    Daveski, the first action will be whatever bills are carried over. I think that gets done on that session on Dec 8th. That will be interesting – check No Right Term who has a list.

  17. Bill 17

    Daveski.

    It’s not so much the government that is being given a free ride as the vested interests behind the government and their policies.

    Meaningful, informative ‘news’ is off the cards because the public would become informed and we’d realise that our interests do not coincide with their interests. (‘Them’ being  the corporates who shape/ enormously influence our governments and drive (are) our soap bubble shnooze.)

  18. Daveski 18

    Bill – my final comment as I MUST do some work 🙂

    You’re trying to beat up a conspiracy based on your opposing view of the govt and an opinion piece. Let’s have this discussion in 6 months time and if everything has tanked and the Granny is still lauding the “new” Government, than SP et al will have a valid point.

  19. randal 19

    the media in this country needs its ass kicked.
    they do the same old stuff over and over and every one whimpers but no one does anything
    these so called journalists are middle class dweebs who think they have a calling but all they want is an easy ride and a seat at the top table
    all new zealand has got is a sows ears purse filled with sows ears
    part of the 1980’s revolution was getting rid of standards instituted during the 1930’s and 1940’s without which it would have been impossible to prosecute the second world war
    now they are nearly all gone and nobody knows what a standard is anymore
    does anyone understand what I have just said or is it to much for solipsistic infantilised individuals to understand

  20. Bill 20

    Daveski, I don’t think there is a conspiracy. Just powerful interests defending/ propagating their interests. It’s normal.

    My point is that the ambitions of business can only succeed by keeping the public…the source of potential opposition… relatively uninformed.

    To steal from the quote I used further up….”uninformed consumers make irrational choices”. There is no conspiracy, just a sad state of affairs.

    Enjoy work.

  21. Graeme 21

    Daveski, the first action will be whatever bills are carried over. I think that gets done on that session on Dec 8th.

    Not the 8th. 8th is swearing-in plus election of the speaker.

    It will be the 9th. Parliament will meet, and be called over to listen to the Speech from the Throne is the Legislative Council Chamber; they’ll return and there will be a motion appointing a Deputy Speaker, and two motions appointing assistant speakers as the first orders of business. Re-instatement will happen after this.

    The debate on the address in reply will start on the 10th.

  22. Draco T Bastard 22

    All I’m pointing out is the naivety of claiming the honeymoon is a MSM conspiracy when any govt would be given time to make decisions.

    But Daveski – it’s not the MSMs place to make that decision. It’s the decision of peoples of NZ to make given all of the information. The journalists should still be asking the hard questions of the government and reporting them so that the peoples can make that decision. The MSM acts as if it is their decision though.

  23. Ianmac 23

    Are the first sessions “under urgency” and therefore not subject to debate or Select Committees?

  24. lprent 24

    Graeme: It will be interesting – first time this new government gets down to doing any detail work. I have this sneaky suspicion that is going to be their weak point.

  25. Ianmac 25

    Bill: You seem to dismiss “opinion pieces” as not as good as “factual” pieces. If an opinion piece was written by Hooten or Ralston, I would dismiss it smartly. If it was written by authentic experts in their field like Oram or “Peter Neilson is chief executive of the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development. Gary Taylor is chairman of the Environmental Defence Society. Peter Clark is chief executive of P F Olsen Ltd.” I would treat their opinions with respect.
    And “facts” are only as good as the truth in the words of the writer.

  26. Bill 26

    Ianmac.”Bill. You seem to dismiss “opinion pieces’ as not as good as “factual’ pieces.”Not so. Sorry you got that impression

  27. Bill 27

    Steve, others who bemoan the state of the media and those who don’t seem ‘to get’ what the fuss is about.

    This, by Johnathan Cook responding to Media Lens pretty well encapsulates the myriad problems with the media.

    Too many potentially ‘golden’ quotes. I really do urge you to click on the link and enjoy an illuminating read.

    http://www.medialens.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2860

  28. Rodel 28

    On the plight of Kiwis` stranded in Bangkok..Can’t believe the PM said on national TV.(1/12/08)
    ..”there’s a cost element..and ah obviously y’know if..if that was the ah..only alternative we would,eh,we would, we would obviously explore that option..but there’s timing issues and at this point it’s probably quicker getting people out on the Thai airlines flight..”.

    ..A cost element?To those held hostage at Bangkok by the appropriately yellow coated right wing (rent-a-crowd) protestors, how do you feel about your own PM being worried about the cost issues of getting you out of danger?

    Nice decisive thinking Mr K.

  29. Bill 29

    Rodel.

    You know why people have occupied the airport? BTW they are in yellow. The pro-government counter protesters wore red…and smack of ‘rent-a-crowd’ in my mind.

    For all the news overage on 1 and 3, I still haven’t heard any explanation on what it’s all about….just a lot of soap about Kiwi tourists and their bus/car journeys to other countries/airports.

    A bit like Mumbai really. A lot of soap and no analysis or explanation concerning the context.

    Of course, on the Air NZ crash, the media are in their element. There are no issues to explore and they can revel in shlock and B/S, even down to TV3 ‘informatively’ pointing out that black boxes are red ’cause they are easier to find…

  30. Chris G 30

    Wow that is a crap article. Its like a National party press statement, it even reads like one with the bullet points of policy (To hammer them in to the mind)

  31. randal 31

    the new zealand meedia are still stuck at the level of if the palestinians are ‘given’ their own state then peace will come immediately to the whole middle east
    yeah right
    the meedia here are infantile, solipsistic and most of all unlettered and worst of all proud of their ignorance
    there are no standards in this country and that is the way they prefer it
    that way they never have to come up to the mark and while the rest are fixated on hardly davidsons, overseas trips and and any other frippery that one might imagine then nothing will change

  32. Rodel 32

    Reply to Bill 2 December on the Thai protests.
    If you read the article by Gwynne Dwyer on page B4 of the Christchurch Press (December 20) you may gain a different perspective on the Thai democracy issue and why our PM was reluctant to act decisively.

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